Author Guest Post | James A. Moore on writing Seven Forges

save imageSEVEN FORGES, my latest novel, is a sword and sorcery story. Before Robert E. Howard came along and wrote stories of Conan the Barbarian and King Kull, the genre of sword and sorcery fantasy didn’t even exist. Most of the tales along those lines had been fictitious adventures set in a more realistic version of the past. There are no truly set definitions of sword and sorcery stories, but the basic tenets are that the stories should have a certain level of action, a decent foundation in historical events (real or imagined) and, of course, a dash or two of magic.

Howard, for the record, preferred the term “epic fantasy.” It was another author of the genre, Fritz Leiber, who came up with the term sword and sorcery. Leiber by the way, is likely best known for his stories of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. It’s interesting that two of the progenitors of the genre primarily worked in shorter fiction. I don’t believe either of them really ever managed a novel length work with their best known characters in the field.

But that changed over time, didn’t it? The field evolved. The stories and the storytellers changed and continue to change. I think that’s a wonderful thing. When I was in high school and really started reading fantasy, I was drawn to Howard and Leiber mostly because of the book covers by Michael Whelan. I had a book of his artwork called WONDERWORKS and I looked at the illustrations Whelan did with great regularity. And because of his enthusiasm for the genre, I started reading a lot of the earlier stories. I read Leiber, Howard, Michael Moorcock, and a lot of the comic books inspired by the same. I devoured them. They were filled with exactly the things I liked best, monsters, swords and the occasional scantily clad barbarian woman. How could I not enjoy the heck out of tales? Believe me, there were plenty more that I barely ever had a chance to look into before I expanded into the broader field of fantasy with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Andre Norton and more.

I went a little crazy. I wanted to devour the new worlds these authors and more offered and I did. I delved into mythologies of different cultures (where, let’s be honest, a lot of the stories got their foundations) and into fantasy realms written by many truly amazing authors. And then I read more authors as soon as I ran across them.

Until I discovered the problem with too much of a good thing. Sometimes too much means you see the same thing again and again. Deliberately or not, a lot of the stories that I came across seemed to be a rehash of a certain set of ideas. (And please understand that when I say that I don’t mean every single book I ran across in the genre, just a good number. Part of that would likely come down to the fact that I was looking at books with similar ideas and by writers who worked in the same circles. Once upon a time there was a book called THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty and a bout a trillion or so books came out not long after his that had similar ideas. Mostly likely because the publishers said, “This is successful.” And then bought five more books with a similar premise.) What I ran across, again and again ad infinitum, was this basic notion: There was an orphan boy (or possibly just a day dreaming farmer) and he dreamed of great quests and epic adventures. And then, one day, an ancient evil rose from the depths of that really bad land no one ever goes to any more, and decided to take over the world. And our young hero found a sword/ring/lantern/book/bauble/crown or other extremely powerful item and saved the day after many adventures. Am I being a bit snarky here? You better believe it. Honestly, it wasn’t that all of the books had that sort of theme. It just seemed that way. Every book I ran across after a while was a variation on the same theme. To be fair, it’s just as likely that I was simply looking fro something more and no longer finding it. You go to the same restaurant every day for a year and after a while, no matter how good what you’re ordering is, it’s going to start tasting like what you had the last time you were there. Menus are often limited. In hindsight the problem was really exactly this simple: I wanted variety and I wasn’t finding anything new.

So I moved on. I stopped reading fantasy completely. I dabbled with some science fiction, and I read a lot of horror stories. A lot. No, really, I went whole hog crazy, just like I had with fantasy years before.

And I never really looked back. Instead I started writing and built a career writing horror stories more than anything else. Oh, now and then I did a short story that was fantasy or science fiction, but mostly it was horror.

And the most unusual thing happened to me. I started thinking about what I liked best about the fantasy stories I used to read and my mind started playing “what if.”

Listen as far as I’m concerned What and If are the two most important words in the English language. What If I did this? What if that happened in a story? What if a character I created was walking along and met something unusual? That’s how it all starts for me.

And my mind kept circling around the idea of a vast and powerful empire, the sort that is well established and has grown just a little complacent. A touch too comfortable. The sort of place where most of the people are satisfied, if not really happy. There are no wars. There haven’t been for a long time. The soldiers are still there, but they’re just earning a paycheck and doing their jobs. They haven’t had too many serious fights in longer than most people have been alive.

And my mind started whispering… “Hey, Jim, what if you made a land like that and then drop kicked everything the people in that land believe in?”

The thing about horror? The thing that makes it a little easier than fantasy? I already have a world. Oh, I might have to change the rules a little but only a little. If I tell my readers that a story takes place in New York City, I can get a map, and I can bluff my way through most of it. I’ve visited New York before. And I have friends there I can ask a million questions. If I set it in a smaller town, that’s okay, too. I’ve lived in small towns. I’ve lived all over the country at different times. And I can always hop in my car and travel if I have to.

SevenForges-144dpiBut fantasy worlds? I can read about them. I can watch a dozen movies and I will never, not once, live in those places. Because each one is different and each one is created by a mind that is not like mine. I had to build a world from scratch and that’s a very different task. And it can be a little intimidating.

So let’s look at the rules here, shall we? First rule: The sky’s the limit. One of the best things about writing books as opposed to making movies is that there are absolutely no budgetary limitations. If I want a world where whales fly through the air and people have built cities on their backs, well, I can have it. So long as I can convince the readers that it makes a certain amount of sense. Just like an artist uses a canvas and paints, if I can use my tools the right way, I can make the world I create real enough. But there are rules there. First I have to come up with how a thing works and then I have to define it. And then, when I’ve got that definition down in my head, I have to start working the words until they make sense for the readers. What a wonderful thing. What a terrifying thing. If I get it right, the readers will go along for the ride. If I screw it up, the readers will walk away. Trust me, that’s intimidating.

A brief diversion here. Sword and Sorcery. Epic Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy with a side of Romance. Steampunk. Magical Realism. Fairy Tales. Horror. Science Fiction. Bizarro. Folklore.

Do you know what all of those have in common? They’re all considered speculative fiction. Most of them require a bit of world building. The first thing I honestly had to consider was how I was going to approach this novel. What sort of rules were going to apply to my new world? Would there be elves, dragons, gnomes, pixies and a dozen different races to compete with? Would there just be humans? Would giants roam the earth? Would gods sit on distant mountains and look down upon their creations or would they get their hands dirty from time to time?

I finally chose Sword and Sorcery. There would be magic. There might other races besides human, but they wouldn’t be relaxing in every port side pub. And I decided that if there would be monsters in my world, I would have to make my own. No dwarves deep within the ground, no fae folk dancing in mushroom circles. If I was going to make a new world, I would borrow as little as I could from other places.

And so I created Fellein, a vast empire, a conglomeration of countries united under one ruling family that has held sway for hundreds of years, sometimes benevolent rules and sometimes darker. Sometimes kind and sometimes simply foolish. Through it all, one family has held power for a very long time and been advised by one or two beings that just might be more than human.

And when I was done painting a kingdom that suited my needs, I turned my eyes to the north and thought about the sort of threat that could shake an empire to the very foundations. A people so different from them that even if they are the same race, they will seem close to alien in every aspect of their lives, from the clothes they wear to the foods they eat, the philosophies they hold as important and the deities they believe in.

And then I gave thought to the sort of people they might be and what might motivate them. And I thought about the sort of gods they might have and what those gods might believe was important.

I found a very large bowling ball and I dropped it on the world I made.

SEVEN FORGES and the books and stories that follow are what happens when you make a new world and then very meticulously set it on fire.

I’ve been having a lot of fun working at the sort of stories I kept looking for when I was younger. I wanted something different. I wanted something epic, that didn’t require a dragon or a single possible hero to save the world.

I wanted a different sort of world. I hope I’ve succeeded. And if you think I did or did not, I hope you’ll let me know.

JAMES A. MOORE is the author of over twenty novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under the Overtree, Blood Red, Deeper, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels Blind Shadows and the forthcoming Seven Forges. He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President. The author cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over twenty role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games, including Berlin by Night, Land of 1,000,000 Dreams and The Get of Fenris Tribe Book. He also penned the White Wolf novels Vampire: House of Secrets and Werewolf: Hellstorm. Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print. He is currently working on three new novels, The Suburbs of Hell, The Chosen (The sequel to Seven Forges), and Boom Town. He currently lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.